Ngo Van was born in a Vietnamese village near Saigon in 1913. He left his village at the age of fourteen and moved to Saigon to work in the metallurgical industry. Van became involved in demonstrations and strikes against the French colonial power. During the Second World War, Van and his comrades were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned by representatives of the Vichy government and the short Japanese rule.
Ngo VanVan decided to leave Vietnam in the spring of 1948, and moved to Paris, where he worked in factories. At the same time, he wrote about the history of the revolutionary movement in Vietnam and Indochina and relations during the colonial and post-colonial periods with France. He also made beautiful drawings and paintings. Van died on 2 January 2005. His papers are at the IISH.